Kvinder i Fysik

Fairness Equity Visibility

POSTPONED: Essay Competition with Women In Physics and Niels Bohr Archive

UPDATE: Considering the current world situation, we have decided to postpone the conference. We still would like to share the stories of some of the amazing women in the history of the Niels Bohr Institute, and we will make an announcement of a new conference date when it becomes possible.

The student essay competition is likewise postponed until further notice.

If you have questions, please feel free to contact us at mail@kvinderifysik.dk

Stay safe, everyone!

Student essay competition: Women in the history of the Niels Bohr Institute

A one-day conference

On May 11th, 2020, Kvinder I Fysik (KIF) and the Niels Bohr Archive (NBA) will jointly host the one-day conference “The women of NBI – at Niels Bohr’s side or in his shadow?“ at the Niels Bohr Institute (NBI)  in Copenhagen, Denmark. The event is directed towards bachelor, master, and PhD students and exclusive to members of KIF and Dansk Fysisk Selskab. It will focus on the women who played important roles in the history of NBI, be it as physicists or researchers from other areas of the natural sciences, or as non-scientific staff or otherwise influential figures. Anthea Coster (MIT Haystack Observatory) will give a keynote lecture on Lise Meitner, additional speakers will speak about other women in the history of NBI. 

Student essay competition

An integral part of the event is the essay competition. Students of any gender and of all levels (high-school, bachelor, master, and PhD students) are invited to submit short essays of 1,200–2,400 words on women who played a role in the history of the Niels Bohr Institute, from its opening in 1921 until the end of the twentieth century. The essays should be written in English, with a non-specialist audience in mind. The essays will be judged anonymously by a panel selected by the KIF board, and the decision of the judges will be final. The judges will evaluate the quality of the essays’ prose, the clarity of their line of argumentation, as well as the originality of their content.


The winner of the essay competition will be invited to briefly present their essay at the one-day conference and will be awarded a prize of DKK 1,500. The second- and third- placed participants will also be invited to participate in the conference and will receive a book prize. The best essays will be published on the websites of KIF and/or NBA.

Scope of the essays

As a rule, the essays should focus on one particular woman, but other approaches are welcome as well (e.g., a joint or comparative study of two women, or an essay about a specific group of women). Even though biographical elements will no doubt be important, we expect the essays to go significantly beyond short Wikipedia-like biographies. You should argue for a specific claim and use evidence from sources to provide evidence for it. You could, for instance, focus on a specific episode or achievement (scientific or otherwise) from a protagonist’s life, or explore what it meant to play a role at NBI as a woman, or debate what limitations and opportunities the person faced at NBI, or argue how their biography relates to the history of the institute or the history of science, or discuss what can be learned from that person’s life regarding gender dynamics in the sciences. Feel free to write a scholarly essay, or to think outside the box and experiment with genre and/or style.

Possible topics

Many women played smaller and larger roles in the history of NBI, and we are equally interested in receiving essays on the better-known female figures, such as, e.g., Margrethe Bohr (Bohr’s wife), Lise Meitner, or Hilde Levi, or on the lesser known ones, such as, e.g., Betty Schultz (Bohr’s long-time secretary) or Sophie Hellmann (Bohr’s personal secretary and collaborator), or on female guests at the institute who only stayed for a shorter period—such as Rachel Lindsay, Piedad de la Cierva, or Tanja Ehrenfest, or on women outside of the institute who still had an influence on it, such as, e.g., Bohr’s aunt Hanna Adler or the Danish seismologist and geophysicist Inge Lehmann.

Come visit the Niels Bohr Archive

NBA holds large amounts of material (letters, photographs, and much more) on many of the women in the history of NBI, and you are welcome to visit NBA and explore this material. The staff at NBA is also happy to help you find (or refine) an essay topic that suits you, and to point you to sources or relevant literature. NBA is open every weekday (Mon-Fri) from 10–15. If you want to make sure that the staff has time for you, send an email in English or Danish to nba@nbi.dk a few days in advance and suggest a day and a time for your visit (and maybe mention whom or what you are interested in).

Practical Details

Essays should be sent as a single PDF file to kvinderifysikdk@gmail.com, no later than 1st April 2020. Essays should be no shorter than 1,200 words and no longer than 2,400 words, written in English with a non-specialist audience in mind. If references or a bibliography are included, they will not be counted towards the essay length. Up to three illustrations, figure, or tables including captions are permitted and will also not be counted towards the essay length.

The conference is open to members of KIF (Kvinder i Fysik/Women in Physics) and/or DFS (Dansk Fysisk Selskab/Danish Physical Society). If you wish to become a member sign up here for KIF and here for DFS.